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Blues Blast Magazine 2018 Lifetime Achievement Awards

Blues Blast Magazine is proud to have the honor of recognizing Sugar Pie DeSanto and Jimmy Johnson with our Lifetime Achievement Award. The Lifetime Achievement Awards recognize an individual's lifetime of contribution to blues music. Sugar Pie DeSanto and Jimmy Johnson will receive their awards at the Blues Blast Music Awards Ceremonies on September 29t at the Tebala Events Center in Rockford, Illinois.

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient - Sugar Pie DeSanto

Standing just under five feet tall but powerful enough vocally, Sugar Pie DeSanto has expertly connected the stylistic fence between blues and soul ever since her flowing rendition of  “I Want To Know” blasted into the R&B Top Five in the autumn of 1960.

For half a decade, Sugar Pie made recordings for Chicago’s Checker Records, and the feisty vocalist has reigned as the queen of Bay Area blues since the late ‘60s. She’s a no-holds-barred spitfire of a live entertainer whose signature scissor-lock move helped render her a sensation during the 1964 American Folk Blues Festival tour of Europe. There she shared the stage with the considerably older Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton in Brooklyn, New York, Sugar Pie answered to Peylia (pronounced Pel-eye-a) as she grew up. Her huge family moved to San Francisco in the late ‘30s, when Peylia was a child. Her father was a Filipino ex-seaman and her mother a musically trained African-American who gave the girl her early training. DeSanto was eventually exposed to blues by some of her black friends. One of her teenaged pals was a young Etta James. Peylia’s younger sister was a part-time member of Etta’s vocal group, the Peaches.

Bandleader Johnny Otis discovered Etta and performed the same service for Peylia, producing her 1955 debut release for the Federal label entitled “Boom Diddy Wawa Baby.” Otis also renamed the petite newcomer Sugar Pie. Professional basketball player Don Barksdale dreamed up her DeSanto surname when she recorded for his Rhythm imprint. By then she was married to guitarist Pee Wee Kingsley, the duo waxing “One, Two, Let’s Rock” for Aladdin in 1958.

Interesting Oakland record producer Bob Geddins in “I Want To Know” by dropping by his studio one day unannounced with a demo, Sugar Pie broke through nationally with the tune on Bob’s own Veltone and Check imprints. She double-tracked her vocal on this recording giving her sound an unusual edge. Checker picked DeSanto up for the first time the next year, issuing her debut album as well as the “I Want To Know” sound alike “Can’t Let You Go.” She toured the country widely, opening for James Brown for more than a year before going her own way.

After leaving Checker in 1967, Sugar Pie made a handful of singles for Brunswick and Soul Clock before becoming the flagship artist on her longtime manager James Moore’s Jasman label. She’s been with Jasman ever since, commencing with her 1972 single “Hello San Francisco.” DeSanto has produced five acclaimed albums for Jasman, and her upcoming EP Sugar’s Suite finds the singer triumphing in the face of adversity. She lost her beloved husband, Jesse Davis, in a 2006 apartment fire and more recently has been battling throat cancer that temporarily cost her the use of her precious vocals (fortunately, they’re coming back strong).

In recognition of her individual style and vibrant career spanning decades, Blues Blast Magazine is proud to present it's Lifetime Achievement Award to Sugar Pie DeSanto.

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient - Jimmy Johnson

Standing straight and tall as he nears the age of 90, Jimmy Johnson remains one of Chicago’s most intense and adventurous blues guitarists. His vocals ring with a soulful grip that’s the bracing product of 60 years well spent on the Windy City circuit. Jimmy initially playing R&B before making a permanent switch to straight blues in 1974. Jimmy’s the other recipient of this year’s Blues Blast Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award, and profoundly deserving of the honor.

Born James Thompson in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Johnson hailed from an uncommonly musical brood; his younger brothers Mack and Syl made their own indelible marks on the Windy City blues circuit, amalgamating into something of a family dynasty. Inspired to pick up a guitar by his childhood pal, Matt Murphy, Jimmy listened to records by Arthur Crudup and the first Sonny Boy Williamson as he grew up.   Gospel music commanded much of the lad’s attention as blues. Jimmy began his migration north in the late ‘40s, stopping first in Memphis before settling in Chicago in 1950. His initial musical exploits in the Windy City were sacred in nature as a member of the Golden Jubilaires. Jimmy was also briefly a member of the doo-wopping Masquerades with the Scott brothers during the late ‘50s.

By the time Jimmy acquired a guitar and began getting seriously interested in performing R&B, it was 1958 and his younger siblings were already busy making local names for themselves. July 4, 1959 marked Jimmy’s first professional gig on guitar with blues harpist Earl Payton. He proceeded to play behind harp man Slim Willis and took guitar lessons from Reggie Boyd before forming his own outfit, the Lucky Hearts. He was still billed as Jimmy Thompson changing his surname to Johnson in the wake of his brother’s huge success. He  scored a ‘67 smash with “Come On Sock It To Me.” Jimmy’s band, the Deacons, waxed an instrumental version of “Sock It To Me” that proved a ‘68 hit for Syl’s Shama label.

Johnson and his band did well for a while backing soul stars Otis Clay, Ruby Andrews, Denise LaSalle, and Walter Jackson regularly on the South and West Side club circuits. However, gigs were growing decidedly scarce in 1974, so Jimmy belatedly gravitated towards blues:a gala ‘75 Japanese tour as Otis Rush’s second guitarist helped make up his mind. Alligator Records prominently featured Johnson as one of the stars of its celebrated 1978 three-LP anthology series Living Chicago Blues, and Jimmy made his full-length album debut the next year with Johnson’s Whacks for Delmark. His confidently soaring pipes confirming the emergence of a new Chicago blues guitar star at age 50.

Like its predecessor, North//South, Johnson’s 1982 Delmark follow up, was dominated by crisp and imaginative originals. The release of Bar Room Preacher, by Alligator in 1985, consisted largely of stirring covers, including a stunning revival of T-Bone Walker’s “Cold, Cold Feeling.” Verve/Gitanes issued Jimmy’s polished ‘94 CD I’m a Jockey and the European Ruf imprint issued his horn-laden Every Road Ends Somewhere set five years later.

Johnson survived a terrible 1988 van crash while touring that killed two of his band members and left him unable to play guitar for a lengthy period. He switched temporarily to keyboards. But the Blues Hall of Famer persevered, making a heartwarming comeback and reasserting himself as one of Chicago’s top bluesmen. It’s a status he maintains to this day.

For his tireless work at helping to promote the Chicago blues and his lifetime of performing music, Blues Blast Magazine is proud to present it's Lifetime Achievement Award to Jimmy Johnson.